NYU Tandon program helps veterans become entrepreneurs

November 10, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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On Veterans Day, we pause to honor those who have served in the nation’s military.

However, veterans don’t always have an easy time once they get back into civilian life. For example, only 6.5 percent of the total number of businesses in New York are majority-owned by veterans, much less than the nationwide average of 9.04 percent. 

And when you look at the past, an astonishing 50 percent of World War II vets became entrepreneurs.

Fortunately, the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, headquartered in Brooklyn, has a program to help veterans and veterans’ spouses who are interested in starting businesses. The program, the NYU Tandon Veterans Future Lab, is a business incubator for military veterans and their spouses, located at Industry City in Sunset Park.

The VFL has two no-cost programs:

  • Apex, a year-long program that offers mentorship, benefits and NYU resources to early-stage ventures. More than 40 companies have graduated from Apex.
  • Veterans Entrepreneurship Training (VET), a 12-week, skills-based program for those looking to transition into business ownership. Over the past five years, more than 240 people have graduated from the program.
Veteran business owners socialize at the Veterans Future Lab. Photo courtesy of Veterans Future Lab

Alexa Modero, director of the Veterans Future Lab, says that the latest “cohort” of 11 companies that have gone through the program includes a wide variety of businesses, from green technology to health technology to data analytics.

For example, she said, one company, Essteem, is led by Marie Roker-Jones, a military spouse. The firm is building a platform for diversity, equity and inclusion, bringing together talent and companies willing to hire them. It hosts “equalithon” events where untapped tech innovators can showcase their work.

Another company that has gone through the program is Eqwal Footing. The company, headed by a female combat veteran Natasha Norie Standard, produces military-grade combat boots for women in the armed forces or who work in construction. “She started with Italian-made women’s shoes,” Modero says, but when COVID-19 hit, “she did a turnaround” and shifted her focus to this largely-untapped market. Until now, female service members have worn boots designed for men.

Modero says VET started in 2015. “Its first iteration,” she said, “was a direct response to former Assemblymember Joe Lentol (D-Northern Brooklyn) who asked what we can do to support entrepreneurs in New York City. The Future Lab was established in 2017. We saw our first cohort that year.”

While a lot of what the program does is tech-oriented, she added, the businesses are not always focused on technology.

Students, she said, have come from all five boroughs, “with a huge presence from Brooklyn.” When COVID-19 hit, the program shifted to virtual, and attracted veterans from as far away as Florida and Texas. The future of the program, Modero said, is probably hybrid, a combination of in-person and online.

In addition to being director and lead instructor of the Veterans Future Lab, Modero is also, with her husband Brett D’Allesandro, the founder of Backpacks for Life, which has designed a backpack meant specifically for homeless veterans.

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